In the manner of a tidal wave sweeping aside anything and everything in its way, the ruling Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance on Wednesday smashed through the barriers of region, caste and gender to post the biggest-ever victory in an Assembly election in Bihar.

The Opposition stood demolished; leader of the Opposition Rabri Devi lost both Raghopur and Sonepur seats.

“I am pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming mandate,” said Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Although opinion and exit polls had predicted a landslide for the combine and a second innings for the Chief Minister, the scale of victory surpassed the most optimistic calculations, with the JD (U) and the BJP together capturing four-fifths of the seats (206) in the 243-member House. The alliance fought the election on the twin issues of development and rule of law, with Mr. Kumar projecting himself as the mascot of a “modern, forward-looking Bihar.”

The JD(U) won 115 of the 141 seats it contested, while the BJP made a near clean sweep, bagging 91 of the 102 seats it contested. The BJP's performance in the State was not only its best since independence but also bettered the strike rate of its senior partner. The Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Jan Shakti Party alliance finished a distant second with 25 seats (RJD 22; LJP 3), while the Congress brought up the rear with four seats, five less than its previous tally. The Congress campaign was spearheaded by its leadership trio of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha opened its account in Bihar, winning the Chakai seat. The Communist Party won one seat and independents/others, six.

The JD(U)-BJP victory took the entire State in its sweep. The combine retained its traditional strongholds in the Magadh-Bhojpur regions and breached the RJD-LJP bastions both in the Kosi-Seemanchal belt and the Naxal-plagued districts in Kaimur, Rohtas and Buxar.

The “caste-religion factor,” once the mainstay of the State, took a back seat, judging from the ruling alliance's successes in regions dominated by the so-called RJD votebank of Muslims and Yadavs. At the same time, Mr. Kumar's programmes to uplift depressed communities from the backward castes appeared to have borne fruit. Indeed, the decisive factor for the Chief Minister was the chunk of 26 per cent votes brought in by the 100-odd communities which collectively form the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs). The Dalits also swung towards the JD(U)-BJP combine, emphasising the success of initiatives such as the Maha Dalit Commission.

The general voter surge and a 10 per cent increase in the number of women voters clearly went in favour of the government, which introduced a slew of progressive measures in the rural hinterland, among them 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats and the “Chief Minister's bicycle scheme.”